How political engineering can make health a bridge to peace: lessons from a Primary Health Care Project in Myanmar's border areas

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



BMJ global health




Suppl 8




COVID-19; child health; health policy; maternal health; public health


This case study analyses a health project that focused on peacebuilding in addition to service provision, and the impacts of this dual focus in contested territories of Southeast Myanmar. The Swiss-funded Primary Health Care Project provided equal funds to both 'sides' in a decades-long conflict, and brought people together in ways designed to build trust. The case study demonstrates that health can play a valuable role in peace formation, if relationships are engineered in a politically sensitive way, at the right time. Whereas much of the literature on 'health as a bridge to peace' focuses on the in health, here the explicitly approach and the deliberate adoption of neutrality as a tool for engaging with different parties were what enabled health to contribute to peace, using a political window of opportunity created by ceasefires and the beginnings of democratic transition in Myanmar. We argue that this approach was essential for health to contribute to bottom-up processes of peace formation-though the scope of the gains is necessarily limited. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and military coup in Myanmar can undermine the resilience and limit the impacts of such endeavours, yet there is reason to be hopeful about the small but significant contributions that can be made to peace through politically sensitive health projects.


Global Health